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Michigan state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson silenced by Republican majority

The reason Rep. Johnson wanted to stand up and speak was simple: “I heard one too many disgusting lies about how race is being taught”

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Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit) (Photo Credit: Michigan House of Representatives)

LANSING, MI. — Michigan House Republicans Tuesday threw their hat into a national debate on Critical Race Theory, passing House Bill 5097, which would ban teaching “implicit race or gender stereotyping” in K-12 schools. 

The legislation passed 55-0 after Democrats refused to vote on the bill because not every lawmaker who wanted to speak was afforded the ability to do so. Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit) was one of those lawmakers. 

“The unfortunate reality is that racial stereotypes continue to exist at various levels in our society,” said Rep. Johnson in a press release. “Preventing our students from recognizing stereotypes and their impact only allows them to further circulate within our institutions and harm the very people that this bill seeks to aid.”

“As a Black woman, this is not the first time people have tried to silence me,” she said. “Attempts to silence Black women have been happening for generations — something that Republicans want to erase from the history books with this bill — but know this: I will not back down. I will not allow Republicans to take away my voice. I will not let Republicans get away with whitewashing history. I will not stop fighting for the students and educators in Detroit and across Michigan, as Republicans try to keep kids ignorant about racial injustice and condemn teachers for doing what’s right.”

Rep. Johnson told the Los Angeles Blade that she was given excuses for why she could not speak that day, namely her name not being on the list of speakers that day. “So what?” she said. “We had plenty of time. They could have taken the experience and the words and the knowledge of a black woman who knows. But they chose not to because they chose to shut me down.” 

The Los Angeles Blade reached out to Republican Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth for comment on the Rep. Johnson issue but did not receive a response before publishing this article. 

The reason Rep. Johnson wanted to stand up and speak was simple: “I heard one too many disgusting lies about how race is being taught,” she said. 

She remembers one individual, in particular, who told her some white children were coming home believing that they were bad because of their race.

“I could not believe what I was hearing,” she said. “Because in my mind I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God. These people are continuing to perpetuate lies, and some of them are believable.’ Why? Because they come from people who you love.”

The bill in Michigan is similar to bills being introduced and passed across the country, aiming to limit or ban the teaching of race and gender. Republicans argue these bills are necessary to keep students from becoming divided. But Democrats think these bills rob students of learning the true history of the United States. 

Many of these bills target Critical Race Theory, a college-level analysis and academic movement examining the intersection of race and law in the U.S. Proponents of Critical Race Theory bans fear that students will learn all white people are oppressors. But according to the Brookings Institution, it does no such thing. 

“Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race,” wrote Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at Brookings. 

Bans are taking aim at LGBTQ+ education, as well. School boards across the country are banning LGBTQ-affirming books like “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns. Kobabe recently penned a Washington Post Op-Ed informing readers of the importance of books like eirs. 

“The only place I had access to information and stories about transgender people was in media — mainly, in books,” Kobabe wrote. 

Rep. Johnson admits that her knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues are limited as she is not a part of the community. She is the mother of a gay son, though, and says she supports the community. 

“I’m not the best person to speak on that,” she said. “And I would not want to just tell you anything off the cuff, because that would not be fair.”

“I’m the type of legislator that if I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to answer. And I’m not going to just tell you anything,” she said. 

Rep. Johnson wishes more people understood that you cannot speak on behalf of another group if you are not a part of that community. 

“This seems so elementary that I can’t speak on behalf of LGBT, but I can support the efforts of LGBT,” she said. “We won’t always agree on all things, but overall I agree. I support LGBT — I’m an LGBT mother. And just like any mother, we don’t always agree with our children on everything. So if this concept is so easy for us to understand, I wonder why it is so difficult for white people to understand that they can’t speak for Black people and tell us what it is.”

Time and time again, Rep. Johnson attempts to reason with her colleagues on the other side of the aisle. She said she recently approached a Republican woman, who she decided to keep nameless, about her mic being cut on the House floor. 

“Have you ever been dismissed as a woman?” Rep. Johnson recalls asking her. 

“Oh, no,” she responded, according to Rep. Johnson. “I’ve had the good fortune where I know I’ve never been dismissed.”

“What do you think about the way I was dismissed yesterday?” Rep. Johnson asked the woman. 

“She never answered the question,” Rep. Johnson said. 

She posed the question because “if they’re dismissive of Black women like that, I only can imagine how they treat their own women.”

Rep. Johnson also made it clear that not all Republicans are not racist or sexist. “Unfortunately, too many of them are following their leadership,” she said. 

Ultimately, she is not surprised that she was not allowed to speak about House Bill 5097 on the floor. 

“The experiences Black women face are nothing new,” Johnson said. “The police tried to silence the voice of Sandra Bland, but we will not stop calling for justice. The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission tried to silence Black women at a hearing designed to let them speak, but we will not stop calling for fair maps and a fair process. They might try to silence me and other Black women, but we are not going anywhere. I will continue being a voice for the people in my district and this state.”

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Michigan

Michigan library defunded after refusing to censor LGBTQ books

A community voted to close its library rather than have it remain open with books some consider to be “indoctrinating” children

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The Patmos Library, built in 1999, faces the prospect of closure after residents rejected an operating millage Tuesday that provides the lion’s share of funding for the institution. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

By Ron French | JAMESTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mi. – What started as a fight over an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel may end with the closure of a west Michigan public library.

Voters in Jamestown Township, a politically conservative community in Ottawa County, rejected renewal Tuesday of a millage that would support the Patmos Library. That vote guts the library’s operating budget in 2023 — 84 percent of the library’s $245,000 budget comes from property taxes collected through a millage.

Without a millage, the library is likely to run out of money sometime late next year, said Larry Walton, library board president.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” Walton told Bridge Michigan Tuesday. “The library is the center of the community. For individuals to be short sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ is very disappointing.”

There have been protests at other Michigan public libraries and at school board meetings about books with LGBTQ themes. But Tuesday may be the first time a community voted, in effect, to close its library rather than have it remain open with books some consider to be “indoctrinating” children.

Continue reading at Bridge Michigan: (LINK)

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Ryan Wieber, President of the Michigan Library Association, released a statement Friday regarding the situation at Patmos Library:

The Michigan Library Association stands in solidarity with the Patmos Library Board of Trustees on the decision to retain a small collection of LGBTQIA+ materials on their library shelves. We are equally disheartened to learn that continued funding for the library was defeated on the August primary ballot because the library would not remove these materials. 

We recognize that individuals have the right and responsibility to make decisions about what materials are suitable for themselves and their own families. We also stand united with the majority of the Patmos Library Board, and with librarians across the nation in upholding our Constitutional protections. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. No one has the right to make rules restricting what other people read or to make decisions for other families. Freedom only exists when individuals can make their own choices. When a book is banned by those who want to censor voices they don’t agree with, our democracy itself is threatened.

Of utmost importance to any public library is curating collections that allow every citizen, young and old alike, to see themselves in the books and resources their library provides, and choosing a broad range of subject matter that reflects diverse experiences. It is important to emphasize that the presence of any reading materials in a library collection does not imply endorsement of the ideas expressed in those materials. The library is simply doing its job to provide a wide variety of views and expressions—if the library “endorses” anything, it is citizens’ right to access a broad selection of age-appropriate materials. This is a core tenant of librarianship – to provide for the interests of all, and to do so without bias.

Of the 50 library millages across Michigan that were on the August primary ballot, five were voted down, but only one was voted down due to extremist rhetoric and opposition concerning the small collection of materials with LGBTQIA+ themes on the shelves of the Patmos Library

And we all know that there are extreme consequences to be addressed for those that voted “NO”.

How will the community fare, when and if, the library closes its doors because its funding was not approved? Economically? Socially? Educationally? The Patmos Library serves many purposes – simultaneously a community center, voting precinct, history center, a place to read, gather, socialize, study and learn – a beautiful cultural institution in the heart of Hudsonville. The day will come when there is no access to WiFi. No access to employment assistance. No access to books, materials and eContent. No access to veteran’s benefits. No access to storytime. No access to afterschool, weekend and evening programs. No access to lifelong learning opportunities. NO ACCESS at all because the Patmos Library will shut and lock their doors and will no longer serve the needs of anyone, including those that voted no.

It is the responsibility of libraries throughout Michigan and our Nation to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those that some individuals in our society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular, or unacceptable. We stand with you as you uphold the first amendment rights that are enshrined in the Constitution by serving the entire population, including those who see value in material that others may find objectionable.

The Michigan Library Association will help Patmos Library in any way they deem needed to address this challenge.

There is a GoFundMe campaign established by local Jamestown resident, Jesse Dillman, who is raising funds to sustain library operations. As of Friday, August 5, 2022 the campaign had raised $12,571 of its $245,000 goal.

The link to the GoFundMe is here: (LINK)

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The preceding excerpt was previously published by Bridge Michigan and is republished by permission. Photograph of Patmos Library sign by Ron French for Bridge Michigan republished by permission.

Bridge Michigan is a non-profit supported by readers like you. Membership at Bridge isn’t like a traditional newspaper subscription. It’s a community.

Every gift makes a difference, but monthly or annual recurring donations build long-term sustainability, helping us grow and prepare for the future. Join Bridge today with a credit card or, if you prefer, through PayPal. Thank you!

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Michigan

Michigan Court of Appeals overturns decision regarding abortion law

The appeals court ruling paves the way for county prosecutors to file criminal charges against abortion providers under the 1931 state law

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Michigan Supreme Court & Courts of Appeals building (Photo Credit: State of Michigan/Michigan Courts)

LANSING – In a ruling issued Monday, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision regarding the state’s dormant 1931 state law that criminalizes medical providers performing abortion procedures.

According to Michigan Public Radio, the appeals court ruling paves the way for county prosecutors to file criminal charges against abortion providers under the 1931 state law. That law would ban all abortions in Michigan except to save the life of a pregnant person. But the decision does not take effect for 21 days, to allow time for parties to file an appeal.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan responded to today’s ruling in a statement:

“The injunction barring enforcement of Michigan’s 1931 criminal abortion ban remains in effect and applies to all Michigan county prosecutors. Under Michigan court rule MCR 7.215(F)(1)(a), “the Court of Appeals judgment is effective after the expiration of the time for filing an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, or, if such an application is filed, after the disposition of the case by the Supreme Court.”  This means that the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling cannot take effect during the 21 day appeal window. Planned Parenthood of Michigan will continue to evaluate our legal options and remains committed to protecting abortion access in Michigan. Planned Parenthood of Michigan will continue to provide abortion services in accordance with the law. PPMI patients can keep their appointments and our doors remain open.”

The Detroit Free-Press reported that the ruling means the 1931 law banning all abortions except those done to protect the life of a pregnant person essentially takes effect immediately, said David Kallman, an attorney for Great Lakes Justice Center, a conservative organization representing several Michigan prosecutors who challenged the injunction.

“We’re ecstatic. It’s wonderful. That’s exactly what we’ve been saying all along,” Kallman said Monday morning in a phone interview.

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Michigan

Michigan’s high court rules existing law bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination

The lawsuit came in the wake of the companies’ refusal to serve transgender customers and those in same-sex relationships

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Michigan Supreme Court (Photo Credit: State of Michigan/Michigan Courts)

LANSING – In a 5-2 decision on Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Rouch World, LLC v Department of Civil Rights that the state’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The case, brought by the Michigan companies Rouch World and Uprooted Electrolysis, sought to challenge the state’s Civil Rights Commission for its interpretation of the law that classified sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The lawsuit came in the wake of the companies’ refusal to serve transgender customers and those in same-sex relationships, prompting customer complaints that resulted in Civil Rights Commission investigations.

Given the arguments of the case, the Court was asked to determine whether the law’s inclusion of the word “sex” as a protected category applied to instances of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

Republican Justice Elizabeth Clement joined Democratic justices Richard Bernstein, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Welch – as well as Democratic Chief Justice Bridget McCormack – in the majority opinion.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex,” Clement wrote in the Court’s majority opinion. “Accordingly, the denial of ‘the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service’ on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes discrimination ‘because of…sex’ and, therefore, constitutes a violation of the [Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act] under MCL 37.2302(a).”

In his dissent alongside fellow Republican Justice David Viviano, Brian Zahra asserted his belief that the Court had overreached in its ruling.

“This Court’s function is to interpret and apply the laws that the Legislature writes,” Justice Zahra wrote. “That is not what the majority opinion has done.”

While the ruling was not at odds with his own views on the matter, Zahra wrote, the Court’s mandate was not observed by its majority in the case.

“Though I take no issue with today’s outcome, because I do not recognize the manner in which it has been achieved by the majority opinion to be faithful to the judicial role, I dissent,” Zahra wrote.

Similar arguments of overreach were made by the plaintiffs in the case who argued that the state legislature, not the Civil Rights Commission, held sole power to expand the law.

“The Legislature has declined to add ‘sexual orientation’ numerous times over the nearly 50 years since the [Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act] was enacted by the Legislature,” the plaintiff companies wrote in their case brief last November. “Further, the Legislature explicitly rejected adding ‘sexual orientation’ to the [Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act]. The unelected [Michigan Civil Rights Commission] is not the Legislature and is not politically accountable to the people.”

Previous, bipartisan efforts have been made by state lawmakers to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law. Such efforts, however, have failed to gain requisite traction in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Cavanagh rejected such narratives as pertinent to the duty of the Court.

“Should the Legislature disapprove of an application of a statute’s enacted language, the Legislature remains free to amend the statute,” Cavanagh wrote. “This Court, however, is bound by the language that the Legislature has enacted, not what the parties or amici believe the Legislature should have enacted or what any individual representative believed was enacted.”

Following its announcement Thursday afternoon, LGBTQ advocates in the state heralded the decision as a victory for equality in the state.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who had argued the case before the Court in conjunction with entities including the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement following the ruling.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that those of us elected to public office work to preserve and protect the rights of all residents,” Nessel said. “Today’s ruling confirms what we have long known – that the protections afforded by the [Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act] cover all Michiganders.”

The decision garnered similar praise from other top state officials, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.

“As a mom, a governor, and proud ally of the community, I am so grateful for this ruling,” Whitmer said in a statement. “It will save lives, protect families, and help ensure that every Michigander is treated with dignity and respect by law.”

With the Court’s expansion of the law’s protections, members of Michigan’s LGBTQ community are now shielded from discrimination in all areas outlined in the law’s language.

Such includes protection in sectors including employment, housing, education and public accommodations.

“For too long, LGBTQ+ Michiganders had been left out of our state’s civil rights protections,” Whitmer said. “No longer. Because of this ruling, nobody can legally be fired from their job or evicted from their home because of who they love.”

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